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This tick can make you allergic to meat and spread

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This tick can make you allergic to meat and spread

Christina Carlson didn’t think too much about the tick she removed from her torso when she was traveling to the mountains of North Carolina in September 2020. But a month later home in Mississippi Carlson complained to her doctor about joint pain and a feeling of bloating in her stomach. Her doctor ruled her out rheumatoid arthritis, and a blood test showed nothing definitive. Then Carlson began eye infections. In February 2021, she suddenly discovered a strange rash on her face; an ambulance doctor treated her for shingles, but the rash did not go away.

When she returned to her doctor’s office, the nurse asked, “You remember that tick bite? ” This led to another blood test that found antibodies associated with alpha-galax, a sugar found in meat and mammalian fats that are not primary.

Alpha-Gala Syndrome (ALS) is an allergic reaction that can occur after a single tick bite. Named after the white dot on the backs of adult females, the mites are historically located in the south central and southeastern United States. They transmit the alpha-molecule molecule from the mammals they fed to the people they bite.

Now there are ticks found in New Jersey and Long Island, New York, with sporadic reports farther north along the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. The spread is forcing researchers to consider possible long-term complications of AGS and further test the cause of allergies with genetically modified meat.

Usually, when a person eats mammalian meat that is not primary, such as cows and pigs, their body does not respond to alpha gal. But when a tick bite injects a molecule, the immune system recognizes it as an invader and produces antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) with this in mind. IgE antibodies attach to leukocytes that fight diseases called basophils in the bloodstream and mast cells in tissues. The next time these cells come into contact with the alpha gala any source, including meat, antibodies recognize it, and the immune system attacks it.

The formation of IgE “can be seen as a gun charge,” explains Scott Comins, deputy head of allergy and immunology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a leading AGS researcher. “Eating mammalian meat then pulls the trigger.”

As a result, allergic reactions, which usually begin two to six hours after taking alpha gal, vary from person to person. They can be light as a tingling in the mouth, or very strong anaphylactic shock. Some people with AGS may eat a double cheeseburger and experience only mild itching in the palms or hives. Others who consume small amounts of lard in fried beans may go into complete anaphylaxis. After eating the meat Carlson immediately felt tingling and sometimes sores in her mouth. Within 24 hours she often experienced eye irritation, joint inflammation, rash on various parts of the body and swelling of the left arm.

There is currently no treatment or antidote for AGS itself. Epinephrine is a first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, and some other allergic reactions can be treated with medications, including antihistamines and corticosteroids. People with this disease have to do their best to avoid any trigger foods. Excluding mammalian meat and other foods usually helps clear up the symptoms. “I cut all the ungulate products,” Carlson says, “and the rash, the infection, the joints [pain]the inflammation is all gone. ”

One consolation for Carlson and most of the 34,000 other Americans diagnosed with AGS is that sensitivity to meat is not constant and often passes after four to five years. This is because the cells of the immune system that create the IgE response are immature B cells called plasmoblasts. According to Commins, these cells do not seem to turn into long-term immune memory cells that remain on alert throughout a person’s lifetime – just as immune memory cells caused by certain vaccines have been watching the invaders for decades.

However, people who spend a lot of time outdoors, such as park rangers and land managers, can get repeated tick bites. “These patients seem to develop long-lived memory cells,” Comins says. “For them, unfortunately, allergies to alpha gal are likely to remain constant.”

However, as the prevalence of solitary mites increases, the incidence of AGS is expected to increase. “Ticks seem to be spreading,” says Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist and an outstanding senior scientist at the Kerry Institute for Ecosystem Research. “Unfortunately, there is no reasonable tick control program in the United States.” Spotted records show that the range of solitary mites is expanding, he says, “but we lack qualitative rigorous data on where they are and how fast they are moving.”

Why they spread is also difficult to determine. The main hypothesis is related to climate change, but researchers are reluctant to draw such a conclusion because it is difficult to test rigorously. “There are studies that suggest that as the climate warms, the geographical range of the single star mite will not expand,” says Ostfeld, “although most studies show that it will.”

It is only clear that climate change prolongs the active season at least for some mites, which increases the likelihood that humans will encounter these arachnids at all. As for the black-legged mites in New York State, Ostfeld says, “we have demonstrated that both the larval and nymphal stages appear earlier and earlier as the climate warms. To the extent that solitary ticks behave in a similar way, one can expect their active season to be longer. ”

Single ticks are less than eight inches long and very aggressive. Often meeting in large groups, they can detect heat and carbon dioxide emitted by people from several yards. Then “they kind of hunt you down,” says Ostfeld. “They’re really running at you.”

Researchers would like to find out whether alpha-gal IgE can contribute to or exacerbate other diseases. In a small 2018 study, Comins and colleagues antibodies are associated with unstable plaques in the coronary arteries. In a larger study in 2022, in which Comins did not participate, researchers concomitant heart attacks with a positive blood test for alpha-gal allergy. “We’re trying to figure out if this alpha-gal immune response is part of the bigger picture,” Cummins says.

He is also talking to a biotech subsidiary of United Therapeutics called Revivicor, which raises pigs to provide organs for transplant to humans. Animals are genetically modified to not contain alpha gal because sugar also causes the human body to reject pig organs. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved meat of these pigs “GalSafe” for consumption. For the past few months, Revivicor has been sending meat to people with allergies and is considering ordering by mail.

Commins would like to check out people who eat GalSafe pork. If the alpha-gal molecule has been eliminated but humans are still responding to meat, researchers will have to reconsider the obvious cause of AGS. “We’re sure it’s an alpha gal,” Cummins said, “but I think it will really prove it.”

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